Gospel Relationships in Cultural Diversity
Over the years, as new migrants have moved into the neighbourhood, it has become virtually impossible to escape encounters with people of diverse faiths in the course of daily life. The Christian community has been generous in helping with practical aspects of welcome but when an opportunity arises where the Gospel can be shared, many struggle. Gospel relationships are fundamental to our identity, yet they are fraught with difficulty, fear, conflict and uncertainty.
So what is a Gospel relationship? The heart of this question is the Gospel. Let us first eliminate what the Gospel is not. For me, the Gospel is not a religious experience or a tract containing “fast food Christianity”, such as the four spiritual laws. Nor is it about people going to heaven when they die. The Gospel is not about the conversion of people. Words like “convert” carry the baggage of Christianity as just a western expression of religion, and often others will understand “conversion” as leaving one’s culture to subscribe to Western cultural values.
The New Testament illuminates the Gospel as the story of Jesus. For me, the Gospel is God’s decisive incarnation in the history of this world as the person of Jesus. It is about the ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in our neighbourhood. It was in his neighbourhood, which was culturally diverse, that Jesus called his disciples to follow him and commanded them to go make disciples. Therefore I believe that Gospel relationship is discipleship.
The Gospel transforms all our relationships; enables them to fulfil their purpose and design. It is foundational for a Christian cultivating relationships in a culturally diverse society. Gospel relationships are based on a Trinitarian understanding of God. The triune God’s love and grace reaches out to every human being no matter who they are, irrespective of their ethnicity, creed, colour or background. As we observe our world, we learn that it is in a stage of rejection and rebellion against its Creator, particularly God’s revelation in Jesus Christ. We learn from the Gospel accounts that it was in an environment of opposition that Jesus demonstrated what it means to have relationship with God and with fellow human beings.
Today in multireligious, multicultural New Zealand, many religions and movements are striving for attention. It becomes challenging, from both sides, when we encounter people of non-Christian faiths — often because of our fear of unknown cultural etiquettes and a lack of understanding of worldviews, and because migrants experience isolation, confusion and difficulty in building new relationships with strange people. Here is an opportunity for host Christians to apply the Gospel principles of love, hope and faith.
Traditionally Christians have imagined that when one builds a relationship with a non-Christian, it has to result in making a convert of that person. When non-Christians smell this agenda, they are hesitant to go deeper. Gospel relationships should be genuine and agenda free — whether people become followers of Jesus or not, you are there to be an agent of the Gospel in their lives, for the long haul. Discipleship is a lifelong process.
⦁ Any new relationship should be explored and founded on a continual commitment to prayer.
⦁ Hospitality is a key ingredient to building relationships.
⦁ Christians should expect, look for and welcome all the signs of God’s grace at work in the lives of people who do not know Jesus as Lord.
⦁ We should be eager to cooperate with people, irrespective of their religious or ideological backgrounds, in projects or acts of compassion and kindness which are in line with the Christian understanding of God’s purpose in history.
It is my experience that when we do what we ought to be doing as Christians, the conversation will be initiated by others. People will discover that we are guided by something more ultimate and immediate than the success of the project at hand. They will find out that we have resources for coping with failure and success, humiliation and glory, because we understand our history from this side of of Jesus’s resurrection. Thus, when we are asked in conversation, we can simply tell the story. Gospel relationships in cultural diversity must be an affair of grace and truth empowered and saturated by love. We cannot treat our relationship with Jesus as a private matter for ourselves. It concerns all people, irrespective of their cultural diversity.
By Shashi Christian
To hold a Salaam Namaste course that enables Christians to build Gospel relationships with people of other faiths, contact firstname.lastname@example.org